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The Window of Tolerance: Understanding Emotional Resilience and Regulation

Updated: Aug 1, 2023



The Window of Tolerance is a term commonly used in the field of psychology, that refers to an optimal state of arousal. where an individual can effectively manage and respond to stress and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or dissociated.

In essence, the Window of Tolerance represents the range of emotional and physiological states in which a person can function comfortably and effectively. When someone is within their window, they can process information, engage in problem-solving, and maintain emotional regulation. Within their window, they can respond to challenges and stressors in a balanced and adaptive way. In relationships, we are in our windows when we feel safe, present, and open to connection with others.

However, when an individual is pushed outside of their Window of Tolerance, whether due to intense emotions, traumatic triggers, or other challenging circumstances, they may experience two common states:

  • Hyperarousal: This occurs when an individual is overwhelmed with emotions and experiences heightened levels of stress, anxiety, or anger. They may become reactive, impulsive, or have difficulty controlling their emotions and actions.

  • Hypoarousal: This occurs when an individual becomes emotionally numb or shuts down to cope with overwhelming emotions or traumatic experiences. In this state, they may feel disconnected from their emotions or the world around them.

Being outside one's window of tolerance can be an overwhelming and distressing experience. We may feel unsafe, struggle to regulate emotions, experience heightened anxiety, or feel emotionally numb and disconnected. This distress can manifest as feelings of helplessness, confusion, or a sense of being out of control.

The concept of the Window of Tolerance is particularly relevant in therapy, as it directly relates to our ability to be present and to regulate our emotions. Each of us has a Window of Tolerance that is bigger or smaller based on our life experiences. The good news is, we can grow our Window of Tolerance at any age and reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of the time we spend outside our windows and in a triggered state. Trauma-informed therapists work to help clients widen their Window of Tolerance, allowing them to process and integrate traumatic experiences in a safe and manageable way.

As a therapist, I use various techniques and interventions, such as mindfulness, grounding exercises, and somatic therapy, to help clients regulate their arousal levels and remain within their Window of Tolerance during therapy sessions. The goal is to provide a supportive environment where clients can explore and process their experiences without becoming overwhelmed or dissociating. Over time, as individuals expand their Window of Tolerance, they may experience increased emotional resilience and improved coping mechanisms in their daily lives.


Interested in working toward expanding your Window of Tolerance? Email me today to chat about working together - hello@janethibodeau.com


Additional Resources:

  • Mindfulness Practice to grow your Window of Tolerance link

  • Mindful Self-Compassion exercises link


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